The Jeffrey Epstein case is an asteroid poised to strike the elite world in which he moved. No one can yet say precisely how large it is. But as the number of women who’ve accused the financier (at least, that’s what he claimed to be) of sexual assault grows to grotesque levels—there are said to be more than 50 women who are potential victims—a wave of panic is rippling through Manhattan, DC, and Palm Beach, as Epstein’s former friends and associates rush to distance themselves, while gossiping about who might be ensnared. Donald Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, architect of the original 2007 non-prosecution agreement that let Epstein off with a wrist slap, has already been forced to resign.
The questions about Epstein are metastasizing much faster than they can be answered: Who knew what about Epstein’s alleged abuse? How, and from whom, did Epstein get his supposed $500 million fortune? Why did Acosta grant Epstein an outrageously lenient non-prosecution agreement? (And what does it mean that Acosta was reportedly told Epstein “belonged to intelligence”?) But among the most pressing queries is which other famous people might be exposed for committing sex crimes. “There were other business associates of Mr. Epstein’s who engaged in improper sexual misconduct at one or more of his homes. We do know that,” said Brad Edwards, a lawyer for Courtney Wild, one of the Epstein accusers who gave emotional testimony at Epstein’s bail hearing. “In due time the names are going to start coming out.” (Attorneys for Epstein did not respond to a request for comment.)
Likely within days, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will release almost 2,000 pages of documents that could reveal sexual abuse by “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known prime minister, and other world leaders,” according to the three-judge panel’s ruling. The documents were filed during a civil defamation lawsuit brought by Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a former Mar-a-Lago locker-room attendant, against Epstein’s former girlfriend and alleged madam, Ghislaine Maxwell. “Nobody who was around Epstein a lot is going to have an easy time now. It’s all going to come out,” said Giuffre’s lawyer David Boies. Another person involved with litigation against Epstein told me: “It’s going to be staggering, the amount of names. It’s going to be contagion numbers.”
Epstein remained a fixture in elite circles even after he was a registered sex offender. A few years ago, for example, he was a guest at a dinner in Palo Alto hosted by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman for the MIT neuroscientist Ed Boyden. At the dinner, Elon Musk introduced Epstein to Mark Zuckerberg. (“Mark met Epstein in passing one time at a dinner honoring scientists that was not organized by Epstein,” Zuckerberg spokesman Ben LaBolt told me. “Mark did not communicate with Epstein again following the dinner.”)
In an email, Elon Musk responded: “I don’t recall introducing Epstein to anyone, as I don’t know the guy well enough to do so, Epstein is obviously a creep and Zuckerberg is not a friend of mine. Several years ago, I was at his house in Manhattan for about 30 minutes in the middle of the afternoon with Talulah [Riley], as she was curious about meeting this strange person for a novel she was writing. We did not see anything inappropriate at all, apart from weird art. He tried repeatedly to get me to visit his island. I declined.” A Musk spokesperson also emailed: “Elon never introduced Jeffrey Epstein to Mark Zuckerberg and does not know either person well enough to do so. They simply happened to be guests at a neuroscience dinner organized by Reid Hoffman.”
One source who’s done business with Epstein told me that Epstein’s 21,000-square-foot townhouse on East 71st Street welcomed a steady stream of the Davos crowd in the past decade. The source said Bill Gates, Larry Summers, and Steve Bannon visited the house, which has been called one of the largest private residences in Manhattan. “Jeffrey collected people. That’s what he did,” the source said. Gates and Summers did not respond to requests for comment.
Thus far, the name most publicly associated with Epstein’s alleged crimes is famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who’s been waging a public battle with David Boies for years. In April, Boies’s client Giuffre sued Dershowitz for defamation after Dershowitz called her a liar (a strategy similar to that of seven of Bill Cosby’s accusers). In the days since the FBI arrested Epstein at Teterboro Airport a week and a half ago, Dershowitz has been going on television and dialing up friends and reporters to profess his innocence and label Giuffre and Boies liars. “I want everything to come out! I’m not afraid of anything because I did nothing wrong,” Dershowitz told me on the afternoon of July 15.
He called me a minute after I had emailed him for comment. He said he’d been friends with Epstein since 1996, when they were introduced at a party on Martha’s Vineyard by Lynn Forester de Rothschild. “She begged me to meet him. She told me, ‘here’s this smart academic.’” A few days later, Epstein invited Dershowitz to Les Wexner’s 59th birthday party at Wexner’s mansion in New Albany, Ohio. “It’s a tradition that Jeff invited the smartest person he met that year. He told them I was the smartest.” They remained close for years. Dershowitz strenuously denied ever participating in Epstein’s underage sex ring and said he’d only been in Epstein’s presence with his wife. “I got one massage!” he told me. “It was from a 50-year-old Russian woman named Olga. And I kept my shorts on. I didn’t even like it. I’m not a massage guy.”
Dershowitz said he secretly (and legally) tape-recorded settlement conversations with Boies and that the phone calls capture Boies admitting that Giuffre’s allegations aren’t true. “Boies is a bad person,” he told me.
“I never said that,” Boies responded when I asked about Dershowitz’s version of the phone calls. “What Alan does is he plays a second or two out of context; he never lets anybody listen to the whole thing.” Boies also dismissed Dershowitz’s claim that he never met Giuffre at Epstein’s house. According to Boies, Epstein’s former employees said in sworn depositions that they saw Dershowitz at the house multiple times without his wife. “This Olga woman doesn’t exist. Epstein’s barely kept women around who were over 25. It’s a figment of Alan’s imagination,” Boies said.
On Wall Street, Epstein is a subject of mystery—and fear. “I knew Jeff. He came across as very smart, very sophisticated,” one hedge fund manager told me. “He always had a good read on people. But manipulative people are good at that.” Another person who’s been in meetings with Epstein told me: “He’s very clever.”
How Epstein obtained his fortune is a matter of feverish speculation. His claim to a billionaire-only client list now seems laughable to the bankers I spoke with. One Wall Street source with direct knowledge of Epstein’s business said one source of Epstein’s income was providing “tax advice and estate planning” to rich clients, like Apollo Global Management founder Leon Black, presumably because Epstein had experience with offshore funds after basing his office in the Virgin Islands. In 2015 Black made a $10 million donation to Epstein’s foundation. (Black declined to comment.)
In the absence of much other information, the reigning theory on Wall Street currently is that Epstein’s activities with women and girls were central to the building of his fortune, and his relations with some of his investors essentially amounted to blackmail.
Similarly, DC is on edge. “Epstein bragged about his contacts in Washington,” Boies said. Reporters are likely to dig into why the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Epstein and kept the deal secret from his victims. One theory circulating among prominent Republicans is that Epstein was a Mossad agent. Another is that the George W. Bush White House directed Acosta not to prosecute Epstein to protect Prince Andrew on behalf of the British government, then the U.S.’s closest ally in the Iraq war. “The royal family did everything they could to try and discredit the Prince Andrew stuff,” Boies told me. “When we tried to follow up with anything, we were stonewalled. We wanted to interview him, they were unwilling to do anything.” (Prince Andrew could not be reached for comment).
Of course, the two Epstein friends that people are most curious about are Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, both of whom have denied anything untoward. During the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s campaign consulted Bill’s post–White House Secret Service logs because they were worried Trump would bring up Bill’s close association with Epstein and wanted to get ahead of the story, a source told me.
For those in Epstein’s orbit, the stakes of exposure are bound to get higher as more and more women come forward. Every day seems to bring new horrors about Epstein’s alleged depravity. At a press conference on Tuesday, Courtney Wild’s lawyer Brad Edwards said that after interviewing dozens of Epstein’s accusers, it appeared Epstein spent almost all of his time abusing underage girls. “It was his full-time job,” Edwards said. “We have not found anyone who has provided information about a legitimate business he was engaged [in].”
This article has been updated to include a comment from Elon Musk, and to clarify Epstein’s relationship to Leon Black.